Off-field dispute: Did fax give high school football team an advantage?

 

mnavarro@MiamiHerald.com

Before University School’s football program knocked off No. 1-ranked and defending Class 3A state champion Delray American Heritage in the playoffs last week, Suns coaches said they received a four-page fax that was essentially a detailed strategic game plan on how to beat the Stallions.

The packet of information — sent on Nov. 19 (four days before the game) with the name of former Heritage coach Doug Socha at the bottom of the cover letter — included Heritage’s favorite plays, formations and tendencies on both offense and defense.

But Suns coach Roger Harriott vehemently denied that he or his coaches used the information before rallying to beat Heritage 34-17 with 22 unanswered points in the second half last Friday. The Suns (10-0) were preparing to board a bus Friday morning to play at Clearwater Central Catholic (11-1) in a state semifinal game at night.

"My first reaction was that maybe they or someone was trying to disrupt our actual preparations for the game," Harriott told The Miami Herald Friday morning. “If you look at the game film and the information that was sent, we didn’t use one bit of that information in how we prepared for the game. Our guys aren’t even looking at the sideline during the game. We ran plays we prepared for on our own that worked well in the game that were the complete opposite of stuff that was in the packet.”

Reached by phone Friday, a spokesman for the Florida High School Athletic Association said the state’s governing body was just hearing of the controversy and was looking into it. But spokesman Corey Sobers said the FHSAA wasn’t ready to comment yet on whether or not the Suns did indeed gain a competitive advantage or are in any danger of being forced to vacate the playoff bracket.

American Heritage assistant coach Brad Tremper told the Palm Beach Post on Thursday that the Suns "were using our terminology, calling out our plays by name. Our kids were so frustrated. We had to calm them down.”

Harriott, who said he didn’t even look at the fax until the day before the game, insists that’s nonsense.

"I called American Heritage and spoke to coach Sizemore once I reviewed it and realized what it was. I sent them the packet and told them what was going on,” Harriott said. "We would never do something like what they’re accusing us of. How would it look if I’m preaching to my kids lessons in integrity and then turn around and tell them to cheat and use something like this to our advantage. I sent the info to them immediately to make sure they knew and to show we have nothing to hide. What they’re accusing us of is not what we’re about.

"The biggest thing I’m wondering is if they claim that several teams were sent this type of information during the season, why are they accusing the one coach that had the integrity to actually warn them this was going on. Because they lost? There’s rumors that same stuff was sent to Armwood and Dwyer and other teams they beat earlier this year. Why are they only bringing this up now? Because we won? Give me a break."

The Post reported late Thursday night that Heritage headmaster Bob Stone, head football coach Stacy Sizemore and Tremper said the information could only have come from their former coach, Socha. They reviewed a portion of the packet from University and said it is a replica of the game plans he produced in six years as coach.

Stone said Harriott confirmed to Sizemore on the Friday night after the game that he had received the packet of information prior to the game, and that he forwarded it to Sizemore at Sizemore’s request this past Wednesday at 2:57 p.m.

“We are not accusing University School of anything; however, we are just attempting to clarify the timeframe of the various communications,” Stone told The Miami Herald. “American Heritage is not complaining that they lost the game but rather the Heritage players are very upset that their former coach appeared to have shared important, confidential information with an opposing school prior to a championship playoff game.”

Socha, now the football coach at upstart Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach and color commentator on ESPN 760-AM’s high school football broadcasts, told the Post he did not send any information to University. His name appears as the sender of the fax, but told the Post "that means nothing."

The fax was sent from a UPS Store whose phone number is listed as 931 Village Blvd., Suite 905 in West Palm Beach, about a three-minute drive and a mile away from Oxbridge Academy.

Harriott said he and Socha "don’t have any sort of social relationship" and that the last time he had a conversation with him was in February of 2011 "at a Nike camp.”

Read more Broward High Schools stories from the Miami Herald

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